I’ve Just Cottoned On That This Week Is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week.
Amazingly, I’ve actually realised before it was too late to contribute this time. My track record on remembering special days and events is spectacularly poor, having previously overlooked Poppy Day, Sports Relief and (on one particularly toe-curling occasion) World Book Day…
(Seriously, is there anything more dejected than the look on your child’s face when they realise that they are the only child rolling up to school in school uniform on a costume day. Ouch.)
Anywho… Now it’s Mental Health Awareness Week (I should add, the kids aren’t actually dressing up for this one. Probably a good thing… ) and having had my own struggles with mental health issues as a parent, I wanted to write something helpful based on my own experiences.
It’s hard to know where to start on the subject of mental health without descending into woe-is-me format, isn’t it?! I wrote this post last year, if you’re looking for a bit of background on the triggers for my own mental health issues.
But today, I’m rather more interested in how the general wear and tear of everyday life can impact on your mental well-being when you’re a Mum.
We’re Not In Kansas Anymore, Toto…
Whilst I consider myself to be fairly well these days, I am still affected by certain things which have an impact on my mental state.
I can get totally blindsided by things that happen in my daily life which are both unpredictable and entirely beyond my control, and the strain of these factors can render me a hot, blubbering mess by the end of the day.
When this happens I feel like I’m on the edge, teetering on the brink of a spell of anxiety, depression or OCD (I have at times been a veritable pick ‘n’ mix of mental health issues, so, you know, take your pick.)
This is something that can feel quite frightening. And whilst I am generally ok in the end, I have to work hard to stop it from progressing.
What I’ve come to realise over these past few years is that the trials and tribulations of Motherhood render us all more susceptible to mental health problems, just by the very nature of taking on the role of “Mum”.
However much of a kick-ass warrior queen we feel we can be on our good days, being a mum has made us more fragile, more sensitive, and more easily bruised and battered by the tides of the day than we ever were before we became parents.
And Here’s Why:
Ok so maybe that’s a bit flippant, but ultimately the difference between your mental resilience when you’ve only really got yourself to think about, and your mental resilliance when you have small humans depending on you to manage literally every element of their lives, is how much mental and emotional ‘stuff’ is constantly on churn in the back of your mind.
Dealing with difficult life issues is stressful for everyone. But when you’re already dealing with elements of child-rearing which are both demanding and time consuming, your mental churn is already fairly well loaded.
You don’t have room to handle All The Things as well.
I have, at various points during my time as a Mum so far, used terms like ‘relentless’ and ‘exhausting’ and ‘hardcore’ when discussing how I feel when I’m struggling.
– These aren’t words that I used very frequently in my life before kids, and I think that the use and resonance of that particular vernacular in that particular context is particularly telling.
So, What Are The Main Factors That Affect Our Mental Resilience?
There are certain factors which, in my experience, take a significant toll on Mum’s mental resilience. I’ve tried to keep it as broad as I can, and it’s by no means a one-size-fits-all list, but managing these 5 can vastly improve your mental well-being and reduce the risk of mental health problems developing as time goes on.
Unsurprisingly stress is my number one factor. And I realise that parenting is a stressful job regardless of any other life stuff contributing to the melee. I also realise that big chunks of stress are utterly unavoidable, and I’m afraid I don’t have advice to impart about how to avoid it, although I did find this rather useful post with a few good tips for doing just that, if that’s what you’re after.
What I can tell you is how to manage it better and minimise it’s impact.
Take control of what’s stressing you out.
Firstly, don’t let it buzz around your head like an angry wasp. Talking about what’s bothering you, or even writing it down, will help you clarify the issue in your mind.
Once you’ve got a clear understanding of exactly what’s causing the stress, try to make a plan to tackle it. Taking control of a problem by actively working towards resolving it massively reduces the stress associated with it.
If it’s something you can’t fix, you need to make peace with the fact that you can’t change it, and accept that it’s beyond your control. From this point you need to mentally put it out of your mind. This can be hard, and often requires a concerted effort, but you CAN do it. It just might take time.
Those of you who read my blog on the regs will remember that I wrote a post about this very thing a few weeks ago. You know how it goes:- Over time there is a general build up of Mum stuff and life stuff. It builds and builds until it ALL. GETS. TOO. MUCH.
Overwhelm can creep up on you, and then before you know it you’re sinking in it. My advice on this is simple. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a step back for a moment. A few minutes of alone time can help (locking the bathroom door and faking a poop session should do it) and try and break it down into all the issues which have contributed to it.
Then, prioritise what needs doing, and tackle one thing at a time. The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts here. If you tackle one part at a time you’ll deal with all the stuff in no time and feel back on top again.
Ah the joys of working Motherhood! Juggling parenting and career whilst feeling like you’re not doing terribly well at either. Great fun.
I found this cracking post all about the struggles of working parents (both funny and true) which made me chortle. But in all seriousness, I have never felt so insufficient both as a Mother and as a Professional as when I went back to work after maternity leave.
Frustratingly, this feeling of being sub-par all round is coupled with being utterly exhausted and stretched so thin that you barely have time to think.
My advice on this is threefold:-
First of all – Be kind to yourself, you are doing your best. Do not allow people to make you feel like you’re not good enough. Spinning plates like this is no mean feat, you’re a bit of a bloody WonderWoman for doing it. You know how hard you’re trying.
And if your kid’s sick and you have to leave work early to collect them from school – so what? You’re not the first parent to do this. It’s unavoidable. Smile sweetly and give the mental finger to colleagues who purse their lips in disapproval. What would they expect you to do?!? Dicks.
Secondly – Plan ahead. Having to fly around like a blue arsed fly getting yourself and small people ready and out of the house is super-stressful. Get everything ready the night before, run your mornings like a military exercise and it’ll get easier.
Lastly – Manage your time well. I found this site a while back and I LOVE this stuff. It’s been super helpful for me managing my time when I went freelance (which of course is another option if you’ve really had enough of clocking on at the office but you need to earn a wage). Find ways to make your time stretch and fit more in with less stress.
4.) Lack Of Sleep
Urgh. This one is a killer. My toddler still doesn’t bastard well sleep through the night, and, whilst I’m resigned to the fact that she’s just not a great sleeper (see above: Accepting what you don’t have control of!) it plays a massive part in how well I can handle what life chucks at me.
Sadly I do not have the magic formula for getting your kids to sleep, but when I am zombie-level tired I try to manage it as follows:
Reorder your tasks on your mega-knackered days.
You might have a to-do list as long as your arm, but it’s pointless trying to tackle tricky tasks when you’re braindead. Pick the simplest tasks. That way you’re getting shit done, but it’s not going to make your poor tired brain melt.
Don’t go nuts with the coffee.
Yes, yes, I know, hear me out.
In my (somewhat extensive) experience of trying to live a normal life on
fuck all minimal sleep, there IS such a thing as too much coffee. Have one or two, sure, but when you’re tired you will hit harder lows when the caffeine wears off. Plus, if you’re tired and add any element of stress into the equation you’re more likely to feel panicky and anxious if you’ve gone caffeine crazy.
Get out of the house.
I know this is often the last thing you want to do when you’re exhausted, but trust me. Even a quick 20 minutes out in the fresh air will make you feel calmer and more refreshed. Trust me.
5.) Lack Of Support
This is a biggie. As Mums we need support in some form. You might have people around you, but do they actually know when you’re struggling? If things are really getting on top of you, and it’s making you anxious, stressed or really low, you need to reach out for help.
Don’t bottle it up, take help offered and ask for help if it’s not forthcoming. Asking for a bit of help now might save you needing to ask for a lot of help later.
If you don’t feel you know anyone who you could approach for help, there is still support out there for you. I am a HUGE advocate for online groups, there is some real genuine support online if you know where to look. Mums groups on facebook have been my salvation at times.
My faves include mega-group The Motherload (which also has a number of linked groups, including MOLO Mates, where you can find other like minded Mums in your area.) Mummy’s Gin Fund which is another lovely supportive group with local meet-up groups, and of course the rather more diminutive Mum Conundrum Facebook Group.
Wherever you are there are Mums near you who get it, will get you, and can support you when you need it. You are not alone.
So there you have it. My top 5 triggers and how I manage them. I hope that helps a bit.
Look after yourselves Motherlovers,
Did you like this blog post? Give some of my other posts a squizz, you might find this one useful if you’d like to find some good resources online for mental health support for Mums.
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